May 2011

DeLaVergne: The Story of a Giant

By Paul Harvey

This month The Flywheel will feature a little known but extremely important engine; the DeLaVergne built in New York City.  These engines are quite rare having been built in large sizes only so that a very few survived.   The museum is fortunate to have three examples in its collection.  Since we are featuring engines built in the state of New York for the June show, this seemed to be a good time for a history of these huge machines.

By 1890, DeLaVergne was already a huge firm manufacturing steam driven ammonia compressors to provide refrigeration.  This equipment was used in ice plants, breweries, cold storage facilities, and any other places that refrigeration was needed.  At this time it was the major supplier in the United States.  The factory was located at the foot of East 138th Street in New York City which was an industrial section with good access to rail and sea transport.  Now, nothing remains to indicate where this complex had been. Photo 1 shows the plant in a catalog illustration about 1910.

However, John DeLaVergne saw in the future the coming of the internal combustion engine to replace steam power.  Foresighted, he made a trip to England in 1893 and licensed the British designed Hornsby Ackroyd oil engine. Built on the design of Herbert Ackroyd Stuart, and produced by Hornsby, they paralleled the Rudolph Diesel engine. But they were at once successful when the Diesel took four more years to make successful. The model HA was designed to burn heavy oils that eliminated the danger of gasoline.  These engines, although inefficient, were very successful and made until 1914. They found use in the crude oil pumping stations where an ample supply of fuel was available.

The next engine in the evolution was the Model FH which came out about 1910.  The designer was Alessandro Franchetti and the designation meant Franchetti Horizontal, from the cylinder placement.   These were built in sizes of 100 hp and larger and provided more efficiency than the HA.  The FH was large and well built and incorporated features from both the HA and the Diesel using a hot bulb and moderate compression pressure as well as air injection.  This compromise was the best design in its time. It was very successful and could run long periods at full load.  It also burnt heavier oils and was used extensively by the pipeline companies. 

Probably DeLaVergne has provided more to the evolution of the modern day diesel engine that any other company.  Unfortunately Mr. DeLaVergne passed away in 1896 and did not see his dream fulfilled.  In the 1920s John Price designed a solid injection engine which changed all oil engine thought.  These were designated the SI and incorporated features still found in diesels today.  The direct injection of fuel and the elimination of high pressure air to do this was a revolution. Later, the multi-cylinder vertical type V engines were developed which were well adapted to locomotive use.  These were built to 1000 hp. In 1931, Baldwin locomotive acquired DeLaVergne for the use of these engines.  However, the DLV marque lived on till the closing of Baldwin in the early 1950s.

My favorite model of the DeLaVergne is the DH.  These engines were built to fill the gap where smaller power was needed.  They were introduced in 1913 and continued into the 1920s.  Being built in 40 and 60 hp single-cylinder models and 80 and 120 hp twins, they were very durable and adapted to burn the heavier crude oil in pipeline stations.  It was an elegant and practical design being long and smooth in appearance.  All the proportions appeared “just right.” The vertical governor was the highest feature and of a pleasing design.  Also apparent were the overhead intake and exhaust valves.  Photos 2 through 4 show the DH engine.

The designer of the DH was Louis Karl Doelling hence the designation of Doelling Horizontal. He was a German immigrant who became the General Superintendent of DeLaVergne by this time. He later rose to become President of the company. He was a member of ASME, as well as other credentials. His engines found use in the oil pumping stations as well as many small factories where dependable power was needed. Gasoline was dangerous and natural gas not always available so that heavy oil was a good choice. They were durable and dependable which fit the market and a good supplement to the larger FH and SI models.

The museum has three DeLaVergne engines.  The first is a 35 hp HA that came home in 1969 and is a dependable runner.  It can be seen in the Power Tech Building.  It was removed from York Station, near Zanesville, Ohio and purchased from the Buckeye Pipe Line Company.  It had pumped crude oil from 1902 to 1969.  The second is the model DH from the estate of the late Dr. John Wilcox.  This engine was used by Buckeye Pipeline in their Ashcroft Station in central Ohio.  John removed the engine in 1967 and it came to Coolspring last year.  Photo 5 shows it loaded and ready for the trip home.   The third engine is a 100 hp model FH that I removed from a Buckeye Station in Sylvania, Michigan about 1974.  It is still awaiting restoration.  

It is my hope that the reader has enjoyed this historical tour of the DeLaVergne Machine Company.  The museum will soon be open and the big June Show is getting close.  Mark your calendar for June 16, 17, and 18.  Please call 814-849-6883.  See you then!

Photo 1: Illustration of DeLaVergne Factory ca. 1910

Photo 2: Illustration of DH Engine

Photo 3: Illustration of Twin Cylinder DH engine

Photo 4: Two DH engines in a New Jersey ice plant

Photo 5: Moving Our DH Engine to the museum



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